(BLOGATHON ’16!) International Baseball Culture: Mitsuru Adachi’s “Touch”, Part 1, which ironically doesn’t have much baseball in it

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

In International Baseball Culture, I look at baseball-related entertainment from outside the USA that isn’t bizarre, but is interesting, perhaps learning some new things along the way!

In 2005, the Japanese television station TV Asahi held a special on the 100 most popular anime (animation) in history, as voted on by Japanese viewers. While many of the most popular programs were fantasy, adventure or science fiction, such as the Gundam series of giant robot programs (at number two) or Dragon Ball (at number three), the top ten also had a baseball anime: Touch, which was seventh.

What is Touch? Well, to put it in simple terms, it’s a tale of two stories: the baseball one and the off-the-field one. It’s about three teenagers (twin boys and their girl-next-door neighbor) who navigate high-school, relationships and their pitfalls while trying to bring their school glory on the diamond as they try to reach Koshien, Japan’s national high school baseball tournament, which is like March Madness and a Friday night in Texas combined.

Needless to say, it struck a nerve with Japanese audiences, and the 2005 program’s polling was not that out of the ordinary: A follow-up list that included votes from after the TV Asahi special was aired also had Touch in the top ten, at number nine. Nor was this a recent phenomena, either: during it’s original run in the 1980s, it was, according to some sources, the most watched anime in the history of Japan. Ever.

The series was, in itself, adapted from a manga (comic) of the same name, written and illustrated by Mitsuru Adachi, that saw it’s volumes sell over an estimated 100 million copies. Just to put that in perspective, in 2010 the population of Japan was around 128 million. Of course, that doesn’t mean over three out of four Japanese people owned at least one copy of a volume of Touch… but it does mean that those who did liked it very much, buying every volume.

From what I’ve read about the series, it’s not hard to see why it would have such broad appeal, as it apparently has something for everyone. It has baseball action (and also some detours into boxing and other sports) for the boys, romance for the girls, and drama and comedy for everyone. And apparently all of those things are done well enough where even people who normally can’t stand stuff like that seem to like it- I’ve come across several reviews that include lines like “I don’t even like baseball but I was enthralled by the game episodes” or “the romance plot is actually realistic and well-handled.”

And yet, despite the fact that Touch is one of the most successful anime and manga in the history of Japan, it has never seen official release in the United States, and it’s unlikely that it will anytime soon, either (the anime and manga import market is mainly focused on recent releases, and what old ones that do happen are usually Sci-Fi or Fantasy). However, there is apparently a unspoken agreement between the Japanese entertainment industry and it’s English-speaking fans that they won’t sue anybody who translates and distributes translated versions of the show/book, so long as they stop doing it if an actual agreement to distribute them in the USA is made, so I was able to find copies of both the anime and manga online.

But anyway: a baseball-centric story that is one of the most popular and well-regarded anime/manga in Japanese history, and it’s almost completely unknown to American audiences? What better way to start International Baseball Culture? (after the jump)

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Coming later this month: “International Baseball Culture”

Bizarre Baseball Culture is perhaps my most popular segment on the Baseball Continuum. In it, I, as I say: “…take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.” It’s seen comic books, video games, novels, TV episodes, animated shorts, a radio drama, and even a full-length movie. They’ve ranged from the well-known to the hyper-obscure, leading Michael Claire to dub me the “Indiana Jones of baseball comics“, which I guess isn’t the worst thing to be put on a tombstone.

Anyway, in search of good material, I have recently began to look overseas. Some of my favorite Bizarre Baseball Culture posts have been from elsewhere in the world. The Pokémon episode, for example, was pretty popular. Mr. Go might have been the most fun I’ve ever had doing Bizarre Baseball Culture (well, until you see what the 50th installment is). My most recent installment was, of all things, an episode of an Ultraman TV series.

However, here’s the thing: it is stupid to assume that everything foreign is bizarre. Oh, to be sure, plenty of it is, just like how the American-made works of fiction I’ve covered here on the Continuum have been bizarre (intentionally or not). I mean, no matter what country it was made in, a movie about a gorilla playing baseball would have been bizarre.

But to say it is all bizarre, simply because it is foreign, would be highly ignorant and also disrespectful. These are places with their own traditions, not only in baseball but in their popular culture. To immediately dub a fairly mundane (i.e. no baseball-playing gorillas or evil glove monsters) baseball comic from Japan or a baseball film from Korea “bizarre” would be like being the baseball entertainment equivalent of the crotchety old columnist who claims that Latin American players aren’t playing the game the “right way” despite the fact that that’s the way they’ve played all their lives. And, guess what, I am not a crotchety old columnist, although I wish I was being paid like one.

So, with that out of the way, I am proud to announce that, starting with a piece in this year’s blogathon, there will be a new recurring feature on the Baseball Continuum: International Baseball Culture. It will cover baseball entertainment from outside the United States and sometimes Canada* that isn’t “bizarre”. Now, there will continue to be foreign-sourced baseball works in Bizarre Baseball Culture, but they will only be those that would qualify for the series due to their content. If it turns out that there’s a Mexican movie in which luchadores play baseball against mermen from Atlantis, that’s still going into Bizarre Baseball Culture. But if it’s a serious drama about a baseball team called the “Luchadores” who are playing a team called the “Mermen”, that would be International Baseball Culture.

So, please join me during the Blogathon when I begin my International Baseball Culture travels with the beginning of a series of articles on Mitsuru Adachi’s Touch, a baseball dramedy/romance manga and anime that won awards, set viewership records in the 1980s, and was in 2005 named one of the ten greatest anime ever… and yet has never seen an official release in North America.

*I’ll be taking Canada on a case-by-case basis. For example, you could argue that the works of W.P. Kinsella are Canadian because Kinsella is from Canada, but you’d be ignoring the fact that most of his baseball stories are set in America and deal pretty specifically with American baseball. But if somebody were to make a French-language drama about a man and a woman who fall in love over their shared longing for the return of the Montreal Expos, that would probably fall under International Baseball Culture.